When it comes to movie making Pinewood Films Studios is all business. Unlike those half studios, half tourist attractions you get in the States Pinewood is a proper working powerhouse where the greats come to do business. The list of films made there speaks for itself. The only downside is that they never open their doors to the public. It was something of a coup then that the Luna Cinema managed to add the home of British cinema to its growing list of screening locations.
When the manager of Pinewood contacted Luna to invite them to do a showing in the studio grounds Luna found themselves in a pickle; what film to show? They did the only thing they could do; they left it up to the public. Nearly four thousand votes later, one movie came out on top. Beating out a long list of Bonds, Harry Potters, numerous Hammer Horrors , Batman and countless others besides was the greatest sci-fi-action-horror film of all time Aliens (1986). After thirty two years of movie watching it’s still my all time favourite, so coupled with a rare opportunity to walk the hallowed grounds of Pinewood only a John Hurt-esque bout of stomach trouble was going to keep me from attending.
Treading the same tracks as Christopher Lee, Daniel Radcliffe and many other legends
Making a weekend of it, we decided to stay at the rather lovely Pinewood Hotel five minutes drive from the studio. The atypical summer weather miraculously still with us, we spent the day walking the trails of film history by trekking round the Black Park Country Park. For years the park has doubled as a forest backdrop, filmmakers hopping over the back fence of Pinewood whenever they needed to shoot somewhere green. Even with the kids on their summer holidays we still found ourselves alone walking the dusty tracks within minutes of arrival. The heart of this film fan saw rickety horse drawn carriages trundling by on the way to the next Hammer Horror and a young Harry Potter making his way through the undergrowth to Hagrid’s Hut. It’s a must visit locale for any film fan, the only downside being the Parks reluctance to make the most of its movie history. The visitor’s centre made no mention of its illustrious past, and I found only a cursory mention in one of its leaflets. Still, we did stumble upon some large construction in the middle of the park, one of the sunburnt set-sculptors informing us that it was to be Cinderella’s Castle for an upcoming Disney film.
Call yourself a film fan? Get yourself to Black Park Country Park
With some friends from the United Kingdom Colonial Marines (UKCM) also attending the evening’s screening we headed to Pinewood an hour early to talk Aliens war stories and grab a good spot for the movie. Slightly disappointed not to be driving through Pinewood’s shiny front gates we were ushered along the road to a back entrance. Driving up to the rear of the James Bond soundstage was a treat, and I couldn’t resist tip-toeing away from the crowds for a quick nose at its 007 logoed front end. The stage was even bigger than I imagined. You could smell the vodka martinis in the air. The Luna security guard that came to usher me back to the party joined me in lamenting that the studio didn’t do tours and that photos weren’t permitted; we both agreed that a photo outside the 007 soundstage was almost too much for a British film aficionado to resist.
Stopping our grinning and dropping our linen
The original setting for the Aliens screening was to be the Pinewood Gardens, but as Luna explained during the film's introduction forecasts of an electrical storm put an end to those plans. Luna can cope with rain and high winds, but lightening is an additional film affect no one wants to brave. Pinewood came to the rescue though and the studio manager made the evening perfect by offering up the "S” soundstage to house the screening indoors instead. As screenings go this one moved from seriously special to once in a lifetime, as we placed our picnic blanket on the same wooden floor Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton walked almost three decades prior. The industrial looking ceiling with its pipes and hanging chains was the perfect backdrop for the screening, and Luna’s massive screen was backlit with eerie green lighting for that extra Alien-esque vibe. When the UKCM guys and girls wandered through the crowd with their own Alien in toe, the entire audience were drooling for Ripley and co.
Vasquez patrols the perimeter
With a mechanical "you have five minutes to reach minimum safe distance” clunking the steel "S” stage shutters closed, the lights were dimmed and James Horner’s foreboding theme crawled from Luna’s speaker stacks. There’s always one or two slices of dodgy cornbread in any cinema screening and unfortunately the early running was spoilt by a late comer who decided to spend the first twenty minutes fiddling with her phone and chatting with her boyfriend. Even a few polite "Ssshh’s” didn’t shut this dumbass up. And how did we know she was a dumbass? She was wearing sunglasses to an indoor, nigh-on pitch black showing of Aliens. I resisted the urge to ask whether she’d ever been mistaken for a man and hoped Luna’s bombastic soundsystem would drown her out. The rumble of pulse rifles and smart guns did the trick and we settled in with beers and snacks for the movie evening of a lifetime.
The legendary entrance to Pinewood. The glitzy new entrance is 50m down the road.
As with every Aliens viewing the two plus hours flew by (Luna treated us to the extended director’s cut). Those walking home were asked to stay back so security could escort them safely through the Pinewood maze; I couldn’t persuade my wife to leave the car in the car park in exchange for a stroll through movie history. She feared I’d stray from the group and was probably right. Tucked safely in our comfy Pinewood Hotel bed we marvelled over another brilliant Luna Cinema showing. One of the greatest movies ever made, shown on one of the best soundstages at a movie studio where not only it was shot, but Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and Prometheus (2012) and Jean Pierre Jeunet’s Alien 3 (1992) as well. It was the first time in Pinewood history that a movie screening had been allowed on their grounds, let alone inside one of its sacred soundstages. The only question was how Luna were going to top it. We were told that if the showing went well there was a chance Pinewood would invite Luna back next year. Here’s hoping they crack open the 007 soundstage next year for some Goldfinger (1964) or Skyfall (2012) cinematic history making.